Mardi Gras weekend 2004 brought severe riots causing extensive damage and personal injury. I think we all agree that we do not want to see similar events in the future, and my hope is that this column can help increase understanding of why we are faced with the challenges before us and more importantly, what can be done to ensure that the San Luis Obispo community moves beyond simply ending the party and toward building a welcoming, respectful and equitable atmosphere for students and community residents.
Student-community relations suffered a huge setback because of Mardi Gras events in 2004. But since that time, student leadership in ASI has successfully rebuilt the relationships necessary for students to have a voice at the decision making table. We continue to be involved in discussions regarding Mardi Gras planning, neighborhood relations and student conduct in San Luis Obispo.
Fortunately, Mardi Gras weekend 2005 was a huge success, with virtually no incidents or reported injuries and fewer arrests than an average weekend. But in order to ensure that the problem has been taken care of, the SLO community feels that it is necessary to ‘stay the course’ for a second year. While this is undoubtedly disappointing for many of my fun-loving fellow students, there is a more important issue taking root than getting your kicks for a weekend. The issue is to build respect for students in San Luis Obispo and do so through leading by example.
We need to focus on defining the next course of action. It is clear that “the party is over;” 350 cops get that point across pretty well. We have demonstrated that students got the message by our responsible behavior last year. And most importantly, we all agree, including city officials, that it is time to move beyond Mardi Gras. But the question remains: “Is the problem really solved?”
This is where students come in and where community cooperation is of utmost importance. We have a choice this weekend. We can put the Mardi Gras issue to rest by proving to the community that students are responsible citizens capable of policing themselves, or we can fuel the fire and encourage continued efforts to control the weekend by allowing disruptive and violent behavior to occur.
As students, we have a momentous opportunity at our fingertips. If we step up to the plate and show our colleagues in the community that we are serious about preserving and enhancing a strong sense of community centered around the vitality that the university brings to this city, then we’ll position ourselves well to define the next phase of this operation. Students have asked me for a voice at the decision-making table and I’m happy to provide it, as long as I know they are sincere about finding solutions and are not just looking for ways to bring the party back. It’s not that we can’t have fun, but we need to do so respectfully and responsibly.
We need to prove that students are not just here to cause havoc. We must demonstrate that we’re interested in protecting our stake in this community, and that we also want to keep our neighborhoods safe. Building respect for students must start somewhere. We might as well start this weekend while all eyes are on us.